“Political” Theater

Submitted by Jim Liversidge, Curator of the Popular Culture Collections

The Belknap Playbills and Programs Collection is the centerpiece of the Belknap Collection for the Performing Arts. With approximately 9500 individual play titles (dating from the late 18th century to the present), the collection is a colorful and informative archive brimming with production and biographical information, photo images and poster art.

Program and Cast List for "Lute Song" 1946
Six years before her marriage to Ronald Reagan, future First Lady Nancy Reagan (then Nancy Davis) appeared as a “Lady in Waiting” in LUTE SONG (1946) starring Mary Martin.

If one is a student of history, political science and civics, an unexpected list of names and faces will appear in the pages of these theatre playbills, programs and souvenir books. Familiar names such as Helen Gahagan, the first Democratic woman elected to Congress from California, co-stars in a 1923 production of Chains, New York City Mayors Ed Koch and David Dinkins walked the beat (as “1st and 2nd Cops”) in a concert production of Sweet Charity, future First Lady Nancy Reagan (as “Nancy Davis”) may be found co-starring in Broadway offerings of Lute Song (1946) and Cordelia (1946), former first daughter, Margaret Truman starred in a summer stock production of The Happy Time in the 1950s and, locally, the future U.S. Senator from Florida, George A. Smathers, starred in an early Gainesville Little Theatre production of Noel Coward’s Hay Fever.

In 1917, British Minster of Munitions, Winston Churchill, portrayed King Henry VIII for 10 performances in the American Red Cross benefit production of CALIBAN BY THE YELLOW SANDS.

Other heads of state took part in theatrical exhibitions. In 1917, future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill appeared as King Henry VIII in Caliban by the Yellow Sands, a Harvard Benefit for the American Red Cross. The last president of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, is represented as a writer of plays including The Increased Difficulty of Concentration and The Memorandum.

In 1970, a young Donald J. Trump, co-produced the Broadway comedy Paris is Out!, written by Richard Seff. Seff said of Trump, who was making his first and only investment in a Broadway production, “He seemed to like to be in the theater but I think he looked at it more like real estate, like a business venture, period. He was a very sweet young man at 24.”

Flyer for 1970 comedy "Paris is out" with Donald Trump as producer
In 1970, the 24-year old Donald Trump co-produced the “delightful family comedy” PARIS IS OUT! on Broadway.

From play titles (Of Thee I Sing, Hamilton, Mister President) to song titles (“I Like Ike,” “We’ll Impeach Him,” “The Country’s in the Very Best of Hands”), the world of politics is a sought after theme and subject in the theatre universe, and these productions are archived here on the UF campus.

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